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Reflection Required

Monday was my first day back after a four-day vacation. I must confess, I am not good at taking vacations. For the first two days I didn’t even know I was on vacation. I kept answering emails, taking calls, and reviewing work.

Somewhere around day three, I notice that I am in a new place. The sun is shining. The water is sparkling. People around me are walking, riding bikes, sitting on their beach chair. Hmm. Could it be that they are relaxing, reflecting on life, and renewing their energy? Could they be getting their mind, body, and soul ready for the next big challenge?

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
~ Peter Drucker

Great leaders pause and reflect on a regular basis. Leaders at their best renew themselves daily. Without time for reflection, a leader is likely to miss important cues, to forget to do the more important things. They don’t see opportunities because they are hidden by the busy and trivial things. Over time, the leader without time for reflection is doomed to run out of ideas, energy, and the ability to serve those that we lead. We simply “run out of gas.”

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”
~ Confucius

Are you a wise leader? Do you have a routine for reflection in your daily life?

Here are some suggestions for building reflection into your daily routine:

  • Give Yourself Time – Put time on your calendar that is strictly your hour, not available to anyone else. For most people this is first thing in the morning, or the last hour of the day. The key is to book it on your calendar and honor the time.
  • Choose One Or Two Activities That Help Slow You Down And Reflect On The Day. There is no one right thing; it just has to work for you. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.
  • Read– Don’t read a whole book, but choose an article, a chapter, or just an inspirational reading that gives you a fresh outlook or a new insight.
  • Journal – If your mind is cluttered with busy thoughts, grab a notebook. Speed-write every jumbled thought in your head, getting all of it on the paper. Then close the journal. Enjoy a few moments without those thoughts.
  • Nature – Get outside. Fresh air and fresh sights are good for the head. Jog or take a bike ride. Walk at a leisurely pace. Look at flowers, animals, and birds.
  • Music – Listen to your favorite music. Sing along. Think about the words of the song. Let a fun song pick you up. Let a serious song give you pause.
  • Take The Next Step – After you have gotten ready for a time of reflection, take the next step. Try spending time in total silence. Find a where you are away from distractions, interruptions and noise. Sit still and listen to the silence. Let your mind stop talking. Give it all a rest.

This is not easy to do and at first attempt, it will feel very uncomfortable. Our homes are busy places. Our workplaces are not quiet places to be sure. Our to-do list is talking to us constantly. To sit still and do nothing feels like a waste of precious time. In fact, the opposite is true. When we are still, our breathing slows down, our hearts stop racing, our headaches depart. And in the place of chaos, if we wait long enough, comes the calm.

One of my favorite poems reminds me of the power of reflection, written by Wilfred Arlan Peterson, a 20th century author.

He wrote:

Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace. Give me amidst the confusion of my day the calmness of the everlasting hills. Break the tension of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of singing streams that live in my memory. Teach me the art of taking minute vacations, of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to read a few lines from a good book.

Reflection time is essential to effective leadership. Don’t wait for a vacation. Make it a daily practice. I’ve been honest with you, I am not good at vacation but I’m working hard at daily reflection time. And here is what I know for sure.

When I do take time for reflection, even if it is just 15-minutes a day, I am better prepared that day to lead. And when I go several days without that time, I become a less effective leader to those entrusted to my care.

Slow me down. Start you daily vacations today.

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